Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Now That’s What I Call A Review # 2,034: DARK TIMES IN THE CITY By Gene Kerrigan

You know the score – a reviewer not entirely steeped in the crime fic genre gets hold of an Adrian McKinty novel, say, and praises it to the sky by comparing it to Agatha Christie / James Patterson / Klarence the Klue-Seeking Kitten … or, worse, damns it for not being as reader-friendly as Klarence, say. I had a review for my first book that claimed I was a disciple of Mickey Spillane, when in fact I’d only ever read one Mickey Spillane novel at that point, and didn’t like it. Anyhoo, it’s always nice when a reviewer gets the genre, and nicer still when said reviewer gets his teeth into a novel that showcases the best the genre can offer. Glenn Harper over at International Noir tends do it right, when he’s not gallivanting around Peru, and Paddy Kenny at the Sunday Tribune did Gene Kerrigan’s latest full justice, with the gist running thusly:
“The test of any great novel should be its verisimilitude, and Kerrigan is the one Irish writer in recent years who has come closest to re-creating the underbelly of Irish society. There are no speeches here about the scourge of new money and development. There are no cranes and flash cars symbolising a world embracing greed heartily to its nouveau riche bosom. Instead he gives us a tight, grim microcosm; and a brutal, vivid, and unforgiving authenticity made all the more convincing because of his consistent effort to strive for realism. Kerrigan prefers to pare things down to the bone with writing that is disciplined and infused with real moral awareness and honesty. It’s also an unnerving read in which the realism takes on an extra resonance. When Mackendrick threatens to kill the members of someone’s family you can’t help but think about recent gangland murders. It further heightens the almost disgusting ordinariness of the people Kerrigan writes about. More than any other book of its kind in recent memory, this is a book that asks hard questions about how a supposedly civil society has facilitated the growth of a sub-culture which is allowed to play by its own rules. There has been a huge surge in the number of successful Irish thriller writers in the past few years; each in their own way has tried to address this question, but no one has addressed in it as brave, forceful, and articulate a manner as Kerrigan.”
  Nice stuff, squire. Very nice indeed. For the full review, clickety-click here

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Revolution: Will Be Downloadable, Apparently

Gah! Scooped yet again. As reported first – as always – by Gerard Brennan on Crime Scene Northern Ireland, The Artist Formerly Known as Colin Bateman has launched an innovative little marketing ploy, by which the first chapter of his latest opus, MYSTERY MAN, can be downloaded by texting ‘MYSTERY’ to 64888. Now, I’m not sure if that applies only to UK mobile / cell phones (those in the Republic of Ireland can text ‘SUMMER’ TO 53705), but either way it’s a nice little idea, and a good example of a writer and / or publisher using technology in a proactive way, rather than wasting their time wailing about the demise of the traditional book format.
  Speaking of which, says he, segueing unsteadily into a kind-of related topic … Writing in The Times yesterday, Nicholas Clee had a very interesting piece about the impact of technology, and particularly digital technology, on the publishing industry, a sample of which runneth thusly:
“Practices that have been normal in the book industry for years are becoming unsustainable … This is where digital technology, such as the EBM [‘Espresso Machine’] and electronic devices, including the Sony Reader, comes in. Printing thousands of books that sit in warehouses or on booksellers’ shelves, only to be pulped, is unsustainable. But remember the long tail: there may be a demand, albeit “niche”, for these texts. It makes sense to create digital files that can be downloaded or printed according to demand.”
  It’s a long-ish piece, but well worth the time of any writer …
  Speaking of which, says he, segueing unsteadily, etc., The Guardian this week also had a smashing piece on how the future is going to look for writers, suggesting that the impact of the interweb means the era of the ‘gifted amateur’ is about to return. To wit:
“A misleading idea has arisen, however, that writers generally can earn enough money to do nothing else. The idea is ignorant of history, of TS Eliot keeping himself comfortable on academic stipends and a publishing house directorship, of Angus Wilson superintending the reading room at the British Museum. It may be that we have it because authorship is now so visible, with the author turned into a small celebrity. But we can all be authors now and publish ourselves on the web. What you might call the moral and aesthetic case for writing - to think, imagine and describe and then communicate the result to an audience - can be satisfied online. It just doesn’t make any money. The age of the gifted amateur is surely about to return.”
  So – no change there for yours truly, although I might want to work a little on the ‘gifted’ side of things. Sigh, etc. Ah well, upward and onward …

Thursday, May 7, 2009

BLOOD RUNS COLD: Hot Stuff, Baby

Ah yes, the wonders of technology. The news that Alex Barclay (right) won the inaugural Irish Books Awards crime fic gong filtered through by way of interweb blog (thank you, Bob), text messaging (commiserations, Brian), and Borg-style mind-meld (get out of my dreams, Alex, and get into my car, etc.).
  Yes indeedio – showing a blatant disregard for the exit poll conducted right here on Crime Always Pays, in which Alex Barclay came fourth, the good folks at the IBA, and the wider voting public, gave the thumbs aloft to BLOOD RUNS COLD. Which suggests that the IBA vote was rigged (boo!) or that the Crime Always Pays readership doesn’t know its arse from its elbow (there’s a new one for you, Peter). Personally, I’m inclined to believe the latter …
  Meanwhile, in other categories, Derek Landy scooped the Senior Children’s Award for PLAYING WITH FIRE, and Ronan O’Brien won the Best Newcomer Award for CONFESSIONS OF A FALLEN ANGEL. For the full list of winners, clickety-click here
  Anyhoos, the crime fic award couldn’t have gone to a nicer home. I’ve met Alex Barclay on a few occasions, and rather than the high maintenance diva I was expecting from her ultra-glam publicity shots, she’s actually a down to earth gal, and very funny to boot. And, of course, she’s a terrific writer. Nice one, Ms Barclay.
  Commiserations to the nominees who didn’t make it onto the podium, being Arlene Hunt (UNDERTOW), Brian McGilloway (GALLOWS LANE), and Tana French (THE LIKENESS). Still, it’s always nice to be nominated, folks. And, like the Olympics, it’s the taking part that counts. Or is it the taking drugs that counts? I never can remember when it comes to the Olympics …

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A GONZO NOIR: Shine On, You Crazy Diamond

All three regular readers of Crime Always Pays may or may not remember A GONZO NOIR, a novel I posted to the web last summer, just for the hell of it. The latest update is that the novel – now in a more conventional manuscript format – is on the verge of going out to publishers for the ritualised mass rejection, before I publish it via Lulu just in time for the Christmas rush. Bon voyage, my pretty, and may you find a fair wind at your back as you round the Cape of Good Hope …
  It’s always a strange time when a book goes off to the meat market. My experience of writing the books is that they generally kick off in a euphoric mood, convinced as you are that it’s the best thing you’ve ever written, and possibly the most interesting combination of words every committed to paper, parchment or papyrus. Roughly halfway in, there’s a point where you sit back and wonder whether it’s actually the most contemptible piece of effluent ever concocted, but by then you’ve invested too much time to flush it, and so you soldier on. By the time it’s finished, the relief is such that it gives you a second wind for a redraft, and off you go again, to ever diminishing returns.
  Anyway, at some point it has to go off to the publishers. Naturally, this is the moment when you’re seized with panic, because it’s so stupid / clich├ęd / useless that the unfortunate person who has to read it may well decide it’s actually worth their while taking out a hit on your life, on the off-chance they might have to read another one of your books, which you were cunning enough to submit under a pseudonym …
  Oddly enough, I feel okay about A GONZO NOIR. Odder still, I feel okay about it even though I’ve sent it out to nine or ten people, terrific writers all, asking for a blurb. ‘Isn’t that a bit previous?’ says you. ‘Aren’t you supposed to wait until you know the book is being published before you start tarting yourself out for blurbs?’ Well, yes, it is – but I thought it might be an interesting experiment to compare the reactions from the writers with the reactions from the publishers. I also thought it might be interesting to blog about the result, on an ongoing basis, just for the hell of it.
  One of the reasons it might be interesting is that A GONZO NOIR is radically different to the kinds of stories I’ve had published before (a private eye novel; a crime caper), and I’ve said as much to the potential blurbees, and given them the get-out clause of backing out of their generous offer to read the m/s if it’s not their kind of thing.
  So, while I’d be hopeful of getting some positive feedback, there’s a good chance I’ll be getting some negative vibes too – and not just from the publishers. Anyway, it could be fun to blog about, especially on those quiet days when Declan Hughes hasn’t been nominated for another award.
  I don’t think it’d be fair to mention the potential blurbees’ names, by the way, because, well, because it somehow feels like it’d be bad manners. But I’ll blog about their reactions, and name names, when the results start coming in. I should say in advance that I know some of them personally, and that I’d made no secret of the fact that I think they’re terrific writers – but then, I only know them because they’re terrific writers, so maybe that’s a moot point. Anyway, we’ll address the log-rolling issue if and when it comes up.
  Incidentally, if you’re reading this and you happen to be one of the generous souls who blurbed THE BIG O, and you’re wondering why I’m not asking you again, it’s because you’ve already done more than enough to aid my bid for world domination, and I don’t want to become a pest.
  I have a good feeling, folks. While I was printing out the m/s on Monday afternoon, to get it copied and bound for sending out to the potential blurbees, I got an email, from someone who shall remain anonymous for now, but who was nearly finished reading AGN, which featured the words ‘brilliant, brilliant stuff’. A coincidence, certainly, but a very timely one.
  Anyway, once it was all printed out, I started reading it. And I’m about two-thirds through at this point, and still enjoying it. Which is very odd. I don’t think it’s ‘brilliant brilliant stuff’, or anything like, but I’m glad I wrote it, and no matter what happens with it viz-a-viz publishing, I’m as proud of it as I am of THE BIG O or EIGHTBALL BOOGIE. A small thing, as the man says, but mine own …
  Oh, a small thing – I’m thinking of changing the title to BAD FOR GOOD. It’s ripped off from an excellently cheesy Jim Steinman number, and I think it sums up a lot of what I find attractive about crime fiction, and it certainly makes sense to me in terms of the main character. Anyway, BAD FOR GOOD – yay or nay?
  Finally, in a strange week of oddities, there’s this – or these, I should say. As all three regular readers may remember, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt last year declined to publish CRIME ALWAYS PAYS, the sequel to THE BIG O. Boo, etc. Now this and this have popped up, which suggests that (a) my Jedi mind-trick is coming on a treat; (b) there’s a Declan Burke out there about to usurp my thunder; (c) I’ve stepped through some kind of rip in the space-time fabric and come out as a Declan Burke who’s getting published; (d) someone’s screwing with me. If anyone can enlighten me, I’d love to hear about it … especially if it’s another Declan Burke.
  Knowing my luck, he’ll be the unholy offspring of Declan Hughes and James Lee Burke, and I’ll forever be known as ‘the other Declan Burke, y’know, the guy with the blog …’.
  Until then, I leave you with the immortal words of Jim Steinman. “If there’s something I want / Then it’s something I need / I wasn’t built for comfort / I was built for speed / And I know that I’m gonna be like this forever / I’m never gonna be what I should / And you think that I’ll be bad for just a little while / But I know that I’ll be bad for good / (whooo-hoo-hooooooo) / I know that I’ll be bad for good …”
  Roll it there, Collette …

Lord Mountbatten Revisited

I was 10 years old when the IRA blew up Lord Mountbatten at Mullaghmore, about six or seven miles from my home, as the crow flies. It wasn’t just Lord Mountbatten, of course – he died alongside Lady Brabourne, local lad Paul Maxwell and Mountbatten’s grandson, Nicholas Knatchbull (left, with twin Timothy). Sligo was only about 30 miles or so from the border with Northern Ireland, and the Troubles had been ongoing for about a decade or so, but that was the first time it all impinged on my consciousness. I can’t remember too much of what I thought of it at the time, other than thinking it was all a bit unfair, really – I was, as most young boys of my generation were, an avid reader of war comics like Warlord and Battle, and if I wasn’t kicking football I was playing war and cowboys and Indians. But blowing up a boat full of old people and kids? That didn’t seem much like war to me.
  It was only years later that I found out who Lord Mountbatten was, and what he’d done, and what he represented. According to the IRA, the guy was an imperialist swine and a war criminal, and it probably didn’t help his cause that he was a favourite of Queen Elizabeth. By that stage, of course, the Mullaghmore bomb was the very epitome of war, in which old folks and young kids tend to suffer and die at the hands of able-bodied men.
  Anyhoos, that’s all by way of a long-winded preamble to the news that Timothy Knatchbull will be publishing his memoirs this coming August, with the blurb elves wibbling thusly:
On the August bank holiday Monday in 1979, 14-year-old Timothy Knatchbull went out on a holiday boat trip in Co Sligo. The IRA bomb that exploded in the boat killed his grandfather Lord Mountbatten, his grandmother Lady Brabourne, his identical twin brother Nicholas and a local teenager Paul Maxwell. In telling this story for the first time, Knatchbull is not only revisiting the terrible events he and his family lived through but also writing an intensely personal book of human triumph over tragedy. Taking place in Ireland at the height of the Troubles, FROM A CLEAR BLUE SKY gives a compelling insight into that period of Irish history. Although it is unflinching in its detail, this is a book about reconciliation that asks searching questions about why human beings inflict misery on others, and suggests how we can learn to forgive, to heal and to move on. FROM A CLEAR BLUE SKY will be published by Hutchinson to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the atrocity on 27th August.

Monday, May 4, 2009

THE DYING BREED: Not Quite Dead Yet

He may not have won the Edgar last week, but Squire Declan Hughes (right) is back-back-BACK! THE PRICE OF BLOOD / THE DYING BREED is up for a Macavity ‘Best Mystery’ Award, with the competition looking something like this:
TRIGGER CITY by Sean Chercover (Wm. Morrow)
WHERE MEMORIES LIE by Deborah Crombie (Wm. Morrow)
THE DYING BREED (UK)/ THE PRICE OF BLOOD (US) by Declan Hughes (John Murray/ Wm. Morrow)
THE DRAINING LAKE by Arnaldur Indridason (Minotaur)
CURSE OF THE SPELLMANS by Lisa Lutz (Simon & Schuster)
THE CRUELEST MONTH by Louise Penny (Minotaur)
THE FAULT TREE by Louise Ure (Minotaur)
  Correct me if I’m wrong (it’s a figure of speech, fact-fiends) but Squire Hughes is the only one on that list who was also nominated for an Edgar. Which augurs well for his chances when the envelope is opened at this year’s Bouchercon in Indiana, which takes place from October 15-18. It also augurs well for his being nominated for a host of other awards at said B’con, and doing a Tana French on it and sweeping the boards … with the added bonus that Squire Hughes is guaranteed to turn up and make a speech. Or two. And then sing, quite possibly ‘The Fields of Athenry’. And then make another speech.
  The point being, convention organiser-types, that it’s a good idea to have Squire Hughes nominated for awards. The man gives value for money … Oh, and have I mentioned yet how good ALL THE DEAD VOICES is? Suffice to say it’s his best yet … and if you don’t believe me, try this.

Irish Crime Writers: Yankee Doodling Dandies?

The latest in a series of interviews TV3’s Ireland AM are running to support the forthcoming Irish Book Awards Crime Fiction gong is one with a difference, as it features experts in Irish crime fic (a small but perfectly formed fraternity, it has to be said) Professor Ian Ross and Michael Gallagher (right, holding up some chancer’s humble offering) giving their opinion on two of the shortlisted novels, Brian McGilloway’s GALLOWS LANE and Alex Barclay’s BLOOD RUNS COLD. Professor Ross of Trinity College is contributing a general overview-style piece to the work-in-progress that is GREEN STREETS, a collection of essays about Irish crime writing in the 21st Century, about more of which anon, while Michael Gallagher is the near-legendary proprietor of Murder Ink on Dawson Street, Dublin, a veritable Aladdin’s cave for the crime fic fan, and a man whose support of the Irish crime-writing brethren and sisthren is Atlas-like.
  Intriguingly, Michael makes the point in the vid below that 90% of Irish crime readers, if they realise a book is set in Ireland, aren’t interested, and that most of the books he stocks in Murder Ink are by U.S. writers. John Connolly, of course, sets his novels exclusively in the States, while the aforementioned BLOOD RUNS COLD is set in Colorado, as is Adrian McKinty’s latest offering, FIFTY GRAND, while Ken Bruen’s recent novels – AMERICAN SKIN, ONCE WERE COPS, BUST and THE MAX, and the forthcoming collaboration with Reed Farrel Coleman, TOWER – are set in the U.S. too.
  Of course, the majority of Irish crime writers (declaration of interest: your humble host included) tend to take the American hard-boiled novel for their stylistic cues, with the transmogrification of Irish society over the last decade making the transplant an all-too-believable one. But it’s a brave move to take on the Americans on their own turf, and kudos to all concerned. It’d be a huge pity, though, if Irish readers were to ignore the likes of Gene Kerrigan, Declan Hughes, Arlene Hunt, Tana French, Brian McGilloway, Colin Bateman, Stuart Neville, Alan Glynn (who set his debut novel in New York, incidentally), Garbhan Downey, et al, simply because their very fine novels were set in Ireland, and especially if it’s because of some kind of inferiority complex. And even if it was, the very fact that Connolly, Hughes, French and Bruen are hugely popular Stateside should tip them off that Irish scribes writing about Irish crimes are just as valid as American authors on American crimes, particular as Connolly and Bruen are bending over backwards to big up their compatriots.
  Hopefully the Ireland AM Crime Fiction Award will alert Irish readers to the quality of indigenous crime writing. Meanwhile, Professor Ian Ross and Michael Gallagher pronounce on Brian McGilloway and Alex Barclay here. Roll it there, Collette …

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Sunday Review

It’s Sunday, they’re reviews, to wit: “Kerrigan’s third novel [DARK TIMES IN THE CITY] is a tense, believable thriller in which one man has to tackle a near-impossible dilemma … this is not an off-the-shelf American-style blockbuster. It’s a damn sight better … Very satisfying,” says Russell James at Crime Time. They like it over at Waterstone’s Quarterly Review too: “Even those readers seldom impressed by crime thrillers will be blown away by this utterly compelling slice of Dublin noir, written in lean, taut prose, with no wrong turns or stylistic errors … Kerrigan’s the real thing, and this is a tough, smart book that’ll give your adrenal glands a sharp prod.” Very nice indeed … And now a big-up brace for Brian McGilloway: “Already it looks like 2009 is going to be a vintage year for Irish crime fiction ... and now Brian McGilloway further enhances his reputation with BLEED A RIVER DEEP. Devlin is an unusual creation in contemporary crime fiction in that he doesn't come burdened with a dark past and this everyman quality allows for a calm certainty when events threaten to spiral out of control,” says the Evening Herald (no link). The Edinburgh Evening News (no link) agrees: “McGilloway has won acclaim for previous novels featuring Benedict Devlin as their hero and he’s kept the standards high here ... BLEED A RIVER DEEP boasts a well-plotted storyline, which has enough twists and turns to keep the reader enthralled to the final page. A great way to pass a rainy spring day!” Speaking of rain, it’s Galway … “Ken Bruen has amazed me always. With SANCTUARY he has taken Jack Taylor from the streamlined to the sublime. With his understanding of the metered word and thoughtfulness towards all that has come before he gives his reader a Jack Taylor outing like none before,” says the inimitable Ruth Jordan at Crime Spree Magazine (no link). But lo! What news of Declan Hughes’ ALL THE DEAD VOICES? “The narrative works through [Loy] and around him, and sometimes you find yourself waiting for another welcome appearance from one of the more morally suspect characters. But then Loy wouldn’t be Loy if he didn't have a streak of the mundane which we recognise in all of us, and Hughes understands this. In the end, an enjoyable and satisfying read,” says Padraig Kenny in the Sunday Tribune. Back to Waterstone’s Books Quarterly for another Squire Hughes hup-ya: “With his terrific sense of place – it’s a great, gritty vision of Dublin – and convincing characterisation, Hughes goes from strength to strength as a writer. As the tension and suspense build, this tightly crafted novel does not disappoint.” Lovely jubbly … A hop, skip and a jump to Canada for the inside skinny on Andrew Nugent’s latest: “SOUL MURDER has a monkish quality about it: a moral seriousness that is reminiscent of P.D. James at her best. Nugent is not a writer of James’s stature, however, and the characters lack the psychological depth, the prose, the brilliance, the plot with the intricacy of the Baroness’s work. Still, it is a satisfying novel of its kind,” nitpicks Michael Wiggins at the Telegraph Journal … Finally, a brace for one of our early contenders for Book of the Year, Adrian McKinty’s FIFTY GRAND: “An amazing page-turner packed with energy and ferocious writing … The writing just bristles with an energy that left me wanting more. This is a novel that promises a thrill ride — at certain points, you’ll want to take a breather, but you’ll keep on reading instead to see how everything comes out,” says Bruce Grossman at Bookgasm. Last word to Ruth Jordan at Crime Spree Magazine (no link): “McKinty’s gift with the Crime Novel is his ability to both unfold and accelerate the plot at the same time. That he does so with a poet’s heart makes the readability factor even higher … This book is a bottle of Pinot Noir amongst an array of table whites, fuller in body and richer in flavour.” It’s a whole new sub-genre, folks – pinot noir. Cheers, hic …